Northampton made desperately hard work of beating Leeds in the Guinness Premiership at Headingley Carnegie.
The Saints had an abundance of possession but did not seal victory until three minutes from the end with a try from the impressive Ben Foden.
Battling Leeds secured a most valuable bonus point in their fight against relegation.
The home side began strongly with Alfie To’oala bumping over Juandre Kruger with a storming run straight from the kick-off. Scrum-half Scott Mathie followed the movement on with a neat break but the Saints kept their line intact.
Leeds continued to have the better of the opening exchanges but it was the visitors who opened the scoring after five minutes with a penalty from Stephen Myler after Kearnan Myall was sin-binned for punching at a skirmish following a line-out.
The Saints should have extended their lead minutes later but Myler made a hash of a simple drop-goal opportunity and then missed a routine penalty attempt.
Northampton dominated play in Myall’s absence but they were unable to increase their advantage. On Myall’s return he immediately dropped a decent pass from Henry Fa’afili after an excellent piece of play from the wing, in fielding a Mathie up and under, had put Leeds in a promising position to threaten the Saints’ line.
The Saints were made to pay for not taking their chances as Leeds built up a period of pressure with To’oala at the heart of their efforts. They were rewarded after 27 minutes when prop Juan Gomez was driven over for the try from close range. Ceiron Thomas added the conversion.
Back came Northampton as they dominated the remainder of the half. They adopted their usual free-flowing style of play but stern defence from Leeds ensured that the home side kept their 7-3 lead at the interval.
Leeds failed to collect the restart kick for the second half, allowing the Saints a position within the home 22 and when the home side were penalised Myler reduced the arrears after three minutes of the half. The Saints had problems on their line-out which prevented them from building up more pressure and Thomas had a chance to restore his side’s advantage but his kick from halfway was nowhere near.
Northampton continued to dominate in terms of territory and possession but their finishing was not clinical enough. They tried to force too many passes and may have been better served by some more tactical kicking.
Foden produced a couple of magical trademark runs but once again the Saints lost possession. The visitors were then awarded a penalty 35 metres out but inexplicably Lee Dickson took a quick penalty and another chance was lost.
Eventually pressure had to be rewarded and Myler kicked the Saints back into the lead with 14 minutes to go.
It was amazing that for all their territory and possession that Northampton had not managed a single try as Leeds had barely got into the opposition half for almost the whole of the second half.
At long last the Saints finally got their just desserts with a try from Foden three minutes from time when Bruce Reihana fielded a Myler cross kick ahead. The wing kicked ahead and Foden collected to score. Myler failed to convert from the touchline to enable Leeds to retain their bonus point.